Having shy students participate

Why are some English Language learners so shy?

As an EL teacher, you have undoubtedly noticed that some shy students never say anything in class! Here are some possible reasons for their timidity.

Firstly, they might have no confidence in their English.

Secondly, they might be intimidated speaking in front of a large group.

Thirdly, they might be too polite to barge in with an answer. This hesitancy is often the case with Asian students. In addition, Asian students are often used to a teacher-centered classroom. In Western classrooms, students are expected to participate actively and are often graded on their participation as well as their written work. However, in contrast, in an Asian classroom, it would be culturally unacceptable to interrupt someone or jump in first.

Helping shy students feel more comfortable

Firstly, have a discussion session on class participation and evoke cultural differences. Create awareness. Ask students how they might solve the problem of shy students themselves. Make the louder, more confident or pushy students aware that others should have a chance to participate too, but please don’t crush their enthusiasm or humiliate them.

Next, make interrupting or blurting undesirable or against the rules during discussion.

Make eye contact with the student and ask them an easy question. Success with easy questions could boost the student’s confidence over time.

Give shy students a head start. Discreetly give them the text up for discussion in advance. If learners feel more confident with the subject matter, they will feel more comfortable contributing.

shy English language learners discussing in small groups

Safety in numbers!

Play a participation game. Divide the class into teams. Every team member has to say something in a two-minute time frame. If this doesn’t happen, that team doesn’t earn a point. Then, let the next group have a turn. If there are only three students per team, then allow one minute.

Give students the chance to discuss things in small groups because it is less intimidating than expressing oneself before a crowd.

Try putting shy students together in a group where they can nurture each other. On the other hand, if you mix the most introverted student with the pushy ones, they will never get a word in edgeways!

Have students choose their own discussion topics

Give them something interesting to talk about. Try asking the shy students to choose a topic for discussion, but don’t put them on the spot. Instead, give them advanced warning so they have time to think about it. Even shy students find it hard to resist joining in when the topic is close to their heart.

Have the shy ones present the topic and open it up for questions.

Other tips

Try making the shy student the president of a meeting, inviting speakers to the floor and maintaining order in the event of a heated debate.

Have fun experimenting with these ideas and please do let me know how you get along, I’d love to hear about it!

All the best,

Shelley Ann Vernon, Teaching English Games

PS: Get my games book for teens and adults to help make your classes fun and your preparation easier.

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